A Donkey or a Horse?
This Sunday as we celebrate Palm Sunday, if preachers and worship leaders have designed the worship service around the liturgy of the palms, they will be using either the Gospel of Mark (Mark 11:1-11) or the Gospel of John (John 12: 12-16) to invite worshipers to hear the retelling of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I remember sermons of my youth in which preachers focused a great deal of attention on the fact that Jesus did not choose to ride into the holy city on a horse fit for a King. Therefore, over the years in my own preaching life and in reflecting on the texts for Palm Sunday, I have pretty much ignored the significance of the animal Jesus chose.
Last night, I was asked to fill in at a church for Palm Sunday. So, this morning I awoke with Palm Sunday preaching preparation on my mind, and I immediately thought of the “not a horse fit for a King” sermons. As I read the texts for this year’s cycle in the lectionary for the first time, I began to do my own wondering about the significance of a “colt” versus a “donkey.”
The only time I had been in the presence of donkeys was when my children rode on a donkey at a town festival. But other than seeing pictures of donkeys illustrated in children’s bibles, this was about all I knew. Since I do not have the life experience and deep wisdom of farmers and those who work the land or take care of animals, I began to read.
Here are some things I discovered in my reading:
- Donkeys can carry heavy loads, often up to 150 pounds on their backs.
- Donkeys can be good guard animals. As such they are often used to guard sheep.
- Donkeys can have a calming effect on nervous animals.
- Donkeys are considered by veterinarians and owners to be a lower maintenance animal with gentle dispositions.
- Donkeys can be excellent protectors as they have large ears which can pick up more distant sounds, and they can use their loud call (or bray), which can last up to twenty seconds, to signal danger to other animals up to 2 miles away.
- Donkeys can also be excellent defenders on behalf of other animals and themselves as they will use biting, striking, or kicking to ward off danger.
In my estimation, why wouldn’t Jesus have chosen an animal such as this to carry him across the threshold of his active ministry to his impending death and ultimately to the resurrection of life and hope for all of God’s people. We may never know what went through Jesus’ mind in choosing this animal, but I am drawn to the beautiful symbolism and metaphors which can emerge in our hearts, minds, and imaginations.
To imagine that Jesus chose an animal which could signal to his believers of all ages, places, and generations that he himself, as a religious leader, was different than all who had come before, all who are in this moment, and all who will arise here on after is quite profound.
- Jesus will always be the One who would carry the burdens and heaviness of the world.
- Jesus will always be the One to guard and protect the most vulnerable.
- Jesus will always be the One whose voice and message could be heard by those who choose to hear it.
- Jesus will always be the One who will defend those in danger.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey was not about show but about servanthood. It was the humble act of naming and claiming that he was willing to accept the cost of loving, protecting, and defending the humanity of all of God’s people even if it meant (and it would) the giving of his own life.
As we sing our Hosannas this Sunday and as we proclaim Jesus is our King of all Kings, may we remember not only his divinity, but his humanity as a leader who embodied the humbleness much like the animal upon which he rode into Jerusalem. And may we seek to embody and live out these same characteristics.
For blessed is the name of the One who lives, leads, and comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister